The capital of Hungary, divided by the Danube into Buda (right bank) and Pest (left bank), is beautiful. Once upon a time, Budapest, along with Vienna, was the joint imperial capital of the Austro-Hungarian Hapsburg Empire. It is known as the Pearl of the Danube.
A couple of landmarks may look “English” to tourists stepping off Budapest flights. The Szechenyi Chain Bridge, which links Buda and Pest, resembles the Hammersmith Bridge (it was built by the same man, Adam Clark) and the Hungarian Parliament Building, all Gothic Revival with spiky spires, is modelled on the Houses of Parliament. Not only is it Hungary's largest building, it is where St Stephen’s Crown, symbol of Hungarian statehood for more than 1,000 years, is kept. Another part of Hungary's first Christian king, his right hand, is in St. Stephen's Basilica.
Its World Heritage sites include the banks of the Danube, Buda Castle Quarter, Andrássy Avenue and Millennium Underground railway. Budapest (and Hungary), is known for thermal springs, many of them in baths and spas. The Szechenyi baths are the most famous, a glorious yellow confection with arches, columns and mosaics.
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Budapest has long, warm, humid summers and short, cold winters. The city averages more sunshine per year than any other European city. Spring and autumn are beautiful here, as is the summer.Early April marks the beginning of spring, and by May the temperature can reach 21 (Celsius). Summer can be quite warm and humid with temperatures in the high 20s. It stays warm until October. December through February temperatures are usually between -6 and zero. It snows frequently, but the snowfall is light.From April to the end of September, there are about ten hours of sun per day.
When to fly to Budapest
July and August are the peak season for visitors coming to Budapest. The city is hot and crowded and the lake region is mobbed.
Both spring and autumn are glorious in Budapest, with plenty to see and do. May through June and late August through September are the best times to search for cheap flights to Budapest and visit - the weather is excellent.
Mid-December is when it starts to get cold and many museums and tourist attractions close for the season.
Getting around Budapest
Hungary’s capital is divided in two by the Danube River, but both Buda and Pest will be easy to get around after your flight to Budapest. Buses, trams and trains are both affordable and dependable. The metro works on an "honour system". Validate your ticket when you board, or risk paying a large fine. (It’s not a risk worth taking. There are plenty of transport police and they’re strict when it comes to dishing out fines.)
Budapest insider information
- Budapest is the city of spas, but how do you decide which one to visit? There are a total of 118 hot springs in the city, which feed more than a dozen baths. Two of the oldest are the Kiraly Baths, on which building work began in 1565, and the Rudas Medicinal Baths. Both were open only to men until 2005, but there are now women only days available as well. Ensure you check before you visit for the correct days…
- Not quite as old, but often more popular with tourists are the three big baths in the centre of town: the Gellert baths in Buda (attached to the Gellert hotel and built in 1918), the Lukacs Medicinal Baths, also in Buda, and the Szechenyi Baths, possibly the most famous, located on the Pest side of the city. All three are open to men and women. The Gellert has a total of nine medicinal pools, so is the place to come for the full spa experience, while the latter two have some wonderful outdoor swimming pools and are therefore more appealing in summer months.
- Hungarian cuisine might not be the first thing to come to mind when you’re thinking of fine dining, but the ever-popular goulash is a local dish worth trying. Goulash is, contrary to popular belief, a thick soup rather than a stew, and is a warming and heartening meal to eat on cold winter evenings.
- A city on the banks of the Danube, Budapest has many spectacular bridges. For a view of many of them, take a walk up Gellert hill. From the highest point, the Citadella, you can see stunning views of the Danube stretching out in both directions.
- The hill is also home to the Gellert Hill Cave, which housed a chapel until it was banned by the Communist regime in 1951. Restored in 1992, the chapel is now open for visits.